I Can’t Take It Anymore!!

How can we cope with more shelter-in-place?

Humans are getting antsy. We are cooped up after weeks of shelter-in-place. We are staring at the same walls and the same faces, talking to the same people, and doing the same things, over and over again. Can anyone say ‘Groundhog’s Day’? Our environments are under-stimulating, while the influx of information and juggling of our many roles is over-stimulating.

This maddening array of experiences is wreaking havoc on us emotionally. We are feeling angry, annoyed, anxious, depressed… you name it! Our old methods of handling our emotions may not be available: spending time with friends, going to the gym, driving to the beach, going out to dinner… we just can’t right now.

So what can we do? Here are some super simple tips for adults, teens, and children to help us get through the worst of our cabin fever:

Identify Your Senses: Take a moment (perhaps outside) to notice what your five senses are experiencing. That’s right: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Say to yourself (out loud, or in your head) “I see the green leaves of the trees, I hear the birds chirping…”. Taking that moment to notice your senses is instantly calming.

Get Unpredictable: Your brain isn’t used to the level of under-stimulation in your environment. Even the smallest change can be stimulating for the brain. Also, having something to look forward to can really change our moods. Get creative: choose to walk in a different neighborhood, move artwork around in your home, have a fun plan for Friday to celebrate your week, have most of your meals outside one day, take a bath instead of a shower etc. Don’t underestimate how small changes can make a BIG impact on your mood.

Where Is Your Tension?: Do a quick scan through your body and notice what muscles are holding tension. As you are reading this, take a moment to… relax your jaw… relax your forehead… relax your shoulders… and then relax your hands. Our muscles actually hold a lot of our stress and overwhelm and these are common areas that we hold this tension. Where do you hold your tension? Releasing this tension in our muscles ALSO releases tension in our minds.

Get Out of That House: Being indoors all day can make us feel a little crazy. It can also increase symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, etc. Schedule a midday break that corresponds with your lunch to go outside, even if it’s brief. This will make a big difference in your mental health throughout the day. Then after your workday, plan to go outside again before dinner. These scheduled breaks can have a huge impact on our more challenging emotions.

Keep An Eye On Your Critic: It can be easy for our critical voice to act up in times like this. Notice what messages your “critic” has for you. Also, notice how often these messages happen and how LOUD these messages may be. Your critic may be working full-time. Take a moment to counter the critical messages with a positive statement toward yourself.

Critic: “You are not taking advantage of your time at home. You had so many projects to do and you haven’t done ANY of them!”.

Positive Voice: “Hey self, you have been working SO hard but you also totally deserve your downtime. Your needs are super important, especially during such a stressful time.”

Identify Your Feelings: Use specific words to identify how you are feeling like “I am feeling sad because I miss spending time with my family.” You can also consider scaling your emotions, using a 1-10 scale to identify the level of your emotion. 1 is low emotion, 10 is high emotion. For example, “my anxiety was at an 8 before my walk, now it is at a 5, I am feeling much better.” This can give us such a great sense of how these different interventions are affecting our moods. (Consider using Google Image to search “Feeling Faces” for some excellent charts for the kiddos… or you!)

Talk About It: What kind of therapist would I be if I didn’t mention talking about your feelings and experiences? This pandemic and challenge of sheltering-in-place is affecting us in so many different ways. Take a moment, with someone you trust, to talk about how this is all affecting you.

We are all doing our best to manage a lot. Having patience and kindness with yourself is the most important thing right now. This is unprecedented for us as a human race and for you as an individual. We are holding that weight, at all times, whether we realize it or not. Breathe deep, slow down, and send yourself a ton of love. You’re best is good enough.

About the Author:

Kim Buksa, MFT is a licensed therapist located in the Bay Area, California. She specializes in working with children and adolescents with anxiety and excessive worry. She also works as a mental health counselor at an Elementary Charter School.

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